The other day, the subject of the best survival ropes came up. I was talking to a friend and he asked me, “If you were trapped in the forest and you only had one rope to choose, what type would it be?” I had some ideas but hadn’t really put a lot of thought into what the best “all-purpose” rope since I prefer to carry two types. So, I did some research on the subject and here are my findings.
What are the best ropes for survival?
- Sisal Rope
- Manila Rope
- Nylon Rope
- Polypropylene Rope
- Polyester Rope
There are numerous factors that go into what makes a good rope. However, the main three are resilience, flexibility, and strength. Let’s go through the different rope types one by one and discuss both their properties and what situation each might be best for.
1. Sisal Rope
Sisal rope is made from natural fiber taken from the plant of the same name. It is one of the most versatile materials to make ropes from. You can find it sold in the form of simple twine all the way up to climbing ropes used in gyms.
There are many pros to sisal. These include
- Water-resistant- Sisal is useful in marine or tropical environments since it is naturally resistant to saltwater deterioration.
- Inexpensive- Sisal is surprisingly cheap. You can usually get 100 feet of 3/8 rope for less than the cost of a typical lunch.
- Great for knots- Some people say that sisal is not good for tying knots. In my experience, I find it to work very well for bushcraft. Whether you are lashing or tying something together, it seems to be secure and hold up to the elements. Just keep in mind that sisal does tend to be one-time use for these purposes. Don’t expect to unlash a structure and take the material with you for reuse.
- Excellent fire-starting tinder- You can cut off a bit at the end and use sisal to create a “bird’s nest” tinder bundle for starting a fire.
- Biodegradable- The good news is that you don’t have to worry about leaving behind your lashings. Sisal will break down over time and not pollute the environment. I mean, it is made from plants after all.
- Not as strong as synthetic rope- With a much lower safe working load than man-made fibers, don’t expect to be using sisal to climb anything or hold anything heavy in place.
- Course and bristly- You have to be careful when working with the stuff since it can cut your hands. However, I actually like the coarseness as it seems to make it hold knots really well.
- One time use- Once sisal gets wet and dries, it tends to hold its shape. It is nearly impossible to untie once knotted and generally has to either be cut off or just left in place until it deteriorates.
- Will rot over time- Don’t expect to create any long term structures out of this stuff. Since it is a natural material, it will slowly degrade over time.
Sisal is Best For
The great thing about sisal is in its versatility. In fact, if stuck in the wilderness I would be ecstatic to have this type of rope since I am more concerned about survival than anything else. Sisal has so many uses that are important for keeping me alive. The 3 big ones are:
- Making knots- Whether I am making a primitive tool, weapon, or shelter, you need something that can effectively hold it together.
- Lashing things- Instead of having to make my own cordage for a temporary structure, I can just use my sisal rope. The thicker ropes, like 3/8″, can be unlayed into separate strands (usually 3) and used for lashing and tying things together.
- Making fire- Sisal is flammable. I recommend keeping some twine in a dry area of your kit.
If you decide to go with sisal, here is a brand that I recommend found on Amazon.
Don’t Mistake Jute for Sisal
If you are looking to add twine to your survival kit, I’d definitely go with sisal over jute. While both will burn about the same, sisal tends to be quite a bit stronger. So, don’t think that all-natural twines are the same.
The only thing that is better about jute is that it is softer on the hands. However, if softness is your major concern there’s another type I’d go with and that’s the next rope on our list.
2. Manila Rope
Often known as hemp, although it’s made from the Abaca plant. Like sisal, it is good for general-purposes and is also biodegradable. The difference is that manila is the strongest among the natural ropes and is much more resistant to moisture. For the most part, manila is an upgrade to sisal.
- Strongest natural fiber rope- If I was in a pinch and needed to use the rope for climbing, I’d have no problem using a manila rope. If I had sisal, I’d find another way down or around.
- Softer on the hands- Unlike sisal, manila is much smoother and easier to handle. It feels great to the touch, is durable, flexible, and strong.
- Affordable- Manila is also fairly inexpensive but typically about double the cost of sisal. However, you still expect to get 100 feet of 3/8 rope for less than a typical dinner.
- Great for knots- While sisal is good enough for most knot-tying purposes, this is where manila really shines. Unlike sisal, it can be wet and dried repeatedly and still work very well.
- Good fire-starting tinder- Sisal seems to make slightly better tinder, but manila works well enough to get the job done.
- Resistant to chemicals- Solvents or other petroleum-based products do not break down manila fibers.
- Biodegradable- You also don’t have to worry about leaving this natural material behind in the wilderness.
- Shrinks when wet- This often leads to the knots becoming hard to undo if they encounter water.
- It will rot- Manila rope is also keen to mildew and rotting, so it is important to store it in a dry location.
- Limited strength- While the strongest among natural ropes, manila is still not nearly as strong as synthetic rope
Manila is Best For
If you are looking for an all-around great rope made from natural materials, then manila will probably be best for most people. It is basically the Cadillac of natural ropes. In fact, if given a choice most people would likely choose manila for all-around wilderness use. It really all comes down to personal preference.
I recommend getting both sisal and manila and doing a test run with each for various tasks. That way you can see for yourself what your preference is. There’s nothing wrong with carrying both manila rope and sisal twine for diversified uses.
Here is some good manila rope, also available on Amazon.
Now, let’s move on to synthetic ropes.
3. Nylon Rope
The first synthetic rope I want to talk about is Nylon. It is a mid-priced option that is an attractive choice as a survival rope.
- Really strong- Nylon is the strongest synthetic rope and has good shock-absorbent properties. 2.5 times stronger than manila rope.
- Flexible- Not only does nylon stretch well it also returns to its normal size once the load is removed.
- Resists abrasion/friction- It is hard to damage this rope which makes it good for winches or pulleys.
- UV and mildew resistant- Also is resistant to oil and many chemicals.
- Absorbs and weakened by slightly by water- Nylon will lose 10%-15% of its strength and flexibility when wet. However, people still often use it for anchor lines. In fact, at 85% strength its plenty strong to do handle most jobs.
- Shrinks when wet- This makes it not good for marine purposes save for dock or anchor lines.
Nylon is Best For
Nylon has the ability to withstand a decent amount of shock allows it to handle sudden movements. This makes it nicely suited for building traps, shelters, or just practicing bushcraft. Its flexible and stretchy nature allows it to hold many complex knots tightly and effectively.
In fact, nylon makes the list as one of the best to take into the wild. If your plan is to trap animals and be able to provide yourself with the food you need to survive while finding your way out, then it will get the job done with flying colors.
Quick Tip: Do NOT try burning nylon rope or using it as tinder. Nylon is known to give off cyanide in the smoke when burned. While this is not a huge concern except in confined places, it’s not worth the health risk.
Choose Nylon Double-Braided Rope
If you decide to go with nylon, I recommend getting double-braided rope. It is braided in a way that the inner core is protected by the outer core. This greatly improves its flexibility and strength. It is also very resistant to sudden jerks. It can be stretched to a great distance, and it can also be very absorbent of shock.
For these reasons, it is one of the most commonly used ropes by marines on field missions. Click here to see some good nylon rope on Amazon.
4. Polypropylene Rope
Probably the most popular all-purpose rope for most people. This is a bit lighter and cheaper than many other synthetic materials. If you expect to be in a damp environment or near the water, then polypropylene (poly) is a really good option. It is water-resistant and even floats.
- Lightweight- Polypropylene is light because it is made from plastic.
- Inexpensive- Expect to pay less for poly when compared to similar sizes and lengths of other materials.
- Waterproof- It also floats on water and has no loss of strength when wet, so it can be used on boats. It is resistant to rotting and molding, so it can be stored rather efficiently.
- Strong and Flexible- Poly is nearly as robust as nylon and some of the strongest rope you can find in the market. There is a wide range of diameters to choose from, as well as colors. 1.75 stronger than manila rope.
- Insulating properties- Poly is actually used by electrical workers since it will not conduct electricity.
- Stiff- Can also be slippery and hard to hold on to.
- Difficult knot- Poly does not hold knots as well as other types.
- Susceptible to friction- Be careful if something is likely to rub or give abrasions to this type of rope. It can weaken and melt from the friction.
- Some Brands are Not UV resistant- If left for long periods of time in direct sunlight, poly will begin to break down. If can even melt past 150°F. Expect to replace it often for this reason. Some manufacturers do add UV light inhibitors to help prevent degradation.
Polypropylene is great for boaters or people settled in near bodies of water. Its resistance to water makes it a great way to carry objects through a lake. It can also be stored easily because it is mold and rot-resistant. This also makes it great in inclement weather. So if you “plan” to get stuck in a tropical rain forest, you can’t go wrong in choosing poly.
It also is not a bad choice for bushcrafting. While I would prefer to have a natural rope, like manila, poly will work just fine. It is strong enough that you could trust for something like the foundation of your shelter.
In fact, I like to think of poly as the synthetic version of manila. It is a great all-purpose rope that holds up well in all types of environments. However, while it is twice as strong as manila it will not hold knots nearly as well. Pick your poison.
I personally am not a big fan of poly, since I think there are much better options. But if you want to try it out, here is a good brand.
5. Polyester Rope
A lot of people believe polyester to be the best all-purpose rope. It almost certainly is for those in the boating industry. It is durable, waterproof, and does not stretch. If you need something firmly tied down, polyester is a good choice.
Also know as Dacron, polyester rope is a synthetic rope that is well-known for its resilience to water. Here are a few other positive characteristics:
- Holds knots well- People who like Manilla will find polyester to be the best synthetic alternative for them.
- Keeps strength when wet- Polyester rope also floats, which is a nice bonus for many marine purposes.
- UV resistant- Also, it is resistant to chemicals.
- Resistant to rot- An uncanny ability to avoid supporting mildew growth and avoid rotting.
- Inexpensive- One of the cheapest ropes around.
- Low stretch- Great for tying things down.
Overall, polyester is great for marine environments or if you expect it to be getting wet a lot. It is often twisted into a three-strand braid to increase its strength in terms of its flexibility.
There are very few negative features when it comes to polyester ropes. While I may be getting a bit nitpicky, here are a few things you may want to consider:
- Not as strong as other synthetic ropes- Polyester is among the weaker types of synthetic ropes. However, it is still stronger than manila.
- Does not float- This may or may not be a con, depending on how you plan to use it.
- Is a bit stiff- Of course, some people prefer stiffer rope. This is actually a small concern for polyester but I thought it worth mentioning.
Polyester is one of the best ropes for learning bushcraft. It is very cheap, which makes it accessible to use as practice material. It is also very resilient to water, mildew growth, and rotting. This allows a survivalist to use this around large bodies of water. It also allows for storage on places like boats or boathouses where mildew might be present or rotting might be a concern.
It is not, however, on the list of one of the best ropes for surviving in the forest. You are left in a sticks on your own, you should choose something that would have a little more strength and a little flexibility, as to expand your limits of knots to tie and to increase your trust in the rope itself not to break.
I highly recommend having some polyester rope lying around. Almost everyone that tries it absolutely loves the stuff. Here is a good brand found on Amazon.
Kevlar is a variant of Aramid that is also sometimes known as Technora. It usually comes with a polyester covering over the Kevlar core. Technically, it is the most durable type of string or rope you can get.
- Extremely Strong- Kevlar is actually stronger than steel pound for pound. While it doesn’t stretch, it is perfect if you need a rope that is completely stable and will hold things perfectly in place.
- Very Durable- It is durable to freezing, flames, water, chemicals, cutting, and is also UV resistant due to the polyester covering. They are also resistant to being cut. Overall, Kevlar is great for extreme conditions.
- Flexible- Kevlar is often used on boats for jobs that require strong but flexible materials.
- Expensive- Even the twine that is commonly use is really pricy. Expect to usually pay at least twice what other ropes cost.
- Weakened by knots- Tying Kevlar in knots can weaken it between 50% and 80%.
Kevlar ropes are very well-known for their resistance capabilities. They are well-suited to be around both lakes and campfires since they are resistant to water and fire. For bushcrafting, Kevlar string is great for lashing things together. However, it is a bit stiff and I would much prefer to have a natural material to work with, like sisal or manila.
For marine purposes, Kevlar ropes are best for boating rigs. If there are many objects of equipment that must be tied onto a big boat, this is the rope to use. Its resistance to water gives it access to both lakes and oceans. Its resistance to fire gives it resilience against the heat of the boat engine. And its resistance to cutting gives it resistance to stranded objects in the ocean.
Kevlar rope is kinda hard to find at a reasonable price. I recommend getting some of the less expensive kevlar “line” at first to try it out.
Paracord is a type of Kernmantle rope, which just means an inner course protected by an outer woven sheath. It most commonly has 550lm tensile strength and is specifically designed to hold large amounts of weight. The fact that it’s used on parachutes should give you some idea of its reliability.
- Strong and durable- Paracord has a standard tensile strength of 550lbs. The intricate design gives it great strength and durability.
- Flexible- It will flex and retain it’s shape fairly well over time.
- Resistant to rot- Mold, mildew, and UV will have little effect on paracord.
- Relatively cheap- You can get a ton of paracord for a really small amount of money. There’s no excuse not to have some in your survival kit.
- Difficult to store- Considering that it can be rather long in comparison to other ropes.
- Becomes tangled easily- If you do not store paracord carefully, it can quickly become a “rat’s nest” in your pack.
I actually know some people who dislike paracord. They say its lack of multi-functionality and difficulty to store makes it annoying to use in multiple situations and hard to pack up in an emergency situation. I am not one of those people, I grew up around the stuff (my Granny worked in a parachute factory).
Paracord is best for the people who are looking to support something light, like their body. If you are intending to mountain climb, or perform any task that requires you to secure yourself using ropes, then paracord is the best solution. It is flexible durable, and strong enough to keep you secure. It can also be used to tie very complex knots to hold yourself up safely.
You can also use paracord for several survival skills such as:
- Making bracelets belts, nets, hammocks, etc.
- Tying gear
- Constructing shelters
In my opinion, everyone should have paracord. Here is some you can find on Amazon.
Here is a table I put together for you showing the working load limits of the ropes we have discussed above.
|Rope Type||3/8″ Safe Working Load (Lbs.)||1/2″ Safe Working Load (Lbs.)|
*Kevlar manufacturers do not assign SWL to Kevlar ropes due to the different variables in play. Instead, they assign a strength to the ropes in kilos. I converted that number to pounds for the chart.
**Paracord is not measured in the same way as other ropes and is usually 5/32″ diameter.
Choosing the Correct Rope for the Correct Situation
While the focus of this article has been about the general use of ropes and finding the best all-purpose one. I mean, the one you would carry if you could only take one with you. Your ultimate choice of rope will depend on the situation you expect to be in.
You also probably want to carry more than one type of rope to cover you for different scenarios. Let’s go through a few common uses and the best rope for those uses.
Best Rope for Climbing
Besides ropes specifically designed for the task, the best rope for climbing on this list, whether it be mountaineering or canyoneering is Kevlar rope. It is well-known for mountain climbing, as its strength, shock-absorption, and flexibility perfectly qualify it for the job.
If its safety and security you need to hold your body as with the rope being the only thing that protects you from hitting the ground, then Kevlar has the perfect strength.
Just keep in mind that unless the rope is specifically designed for climbing, then use it for that purpose at your own risk. This article assumes you are trapped in the wilderness and have no choice but to climb or die.
Best Rope For Making Things
A lot of this comes down to personal preference. Personally, for building and lashing things together I would much rather have sisal twine than anything else. Of course, manila or any other natural material works as well.
Whichever type of natural rope you choose, you can “unlay” the strands and use them for most of your building jobs. There’s no need to waste a full 3/8″ rope or whatever for doing most tasks.
Best Rope for Hot Climates
In hot climates, most people will likely prefer manila rope. It offers the strongest, most durable, and most flexible option for your bushcraft activities among ropes made from natural materials. If you do want to go with synthetic, then polyester is your best choice.
Best Rope For Knots
Once again, manila is the best bet on this front. Most believe it is far superior to sisal or any synthetic material out there. However, a lot of people swear by nylon rope for knot tying. If knot tying is important to you, I recommend getting both and giving them a spin.
Best Rope For Cold Climates
In my opinion, the best rope for cold climates is Kevlar rope. It is all around one of the most resistant materials whether it is mold, fire, water, cutting, or cold.
Often, cold climates have a high chance of bringing water into existence, which can compromise a lot of natural ropes. You don’t have to worry about this with synthetic ropes.
Personally, if I knew I was going to be in a cold climate I would stick to polyester. It’s going to hold up well as well and the versatility of it makes it a far more attractive choice, in my opinion.
If You Could Only Choose One Type of Rope…
If I knew I was going to be stuck in a survival situation it would depend on my location. If it were in a wilderness setting, I would take manila. If it were an urban setting, I would take polyester.
Why You Should Carry Two Types of Rope
This site is all about being prepared. Since my readers will likely be creating their own survival or emergency kits for both wilderness and urban survival, why not just pack two ropes to cover all of your needs instead of trying to find that one perfect rope (there is no such thing)?
- For wilderness survival- Carry paracord and manila rope or twine. There’s pretty much no scenario you can’t conquer with this combo. You can build things, make nets, have tinder, you name it. Feel free to substitute sisal twine or jute twine for manila based on personal preference.
Here is a cool video showing the versatility of natural twines:
- For urban survival- Carry paracord and polyester rope. While rope isn’t nearly as useful in cities you still want to be prepared for as many eventualities as possible. The uses for paracord in an urban setting are too numerous to mention and polyester rope will take care of everything else that might be required.
The only drawback to these choices is climbing. However, in an emergency, you can double up paracord. Just keep in mind that paracord is not a true climbing rope but is better than nothing as long as you understand the risks. If you think you will be doing a lot of climbing and rappelling, carry a lightweight rope designed specifically for the task, like this one found on Amazon.
Choosing a rope is a complex task, as it depends much upon your situation. If it is purely strength you are looking for, you should choose a synthetic rope. However, if you want to be nuanced in your survival needs be sure to choose the rope that will best fit your environment. Or, just take my recommendation and go with paracord and then either manilla or polyester depending on the locale, and be done with it.
I hope this guide is as helpful as it was fun in putting it together. I learned a lot and hope you did too. Be sure to comment with any questions or if I missed something. Thanks for reading!
Here are my recommended brands, all found on Amazon:
Can Bungee Cords Be Used as Rope? Bungee cords actually are not a good choice for rope. They are too stretchy to accomplish a lot of the tasks you would normally need rope for. They are designed basically for a few limited purposes, namely tying or holding things down. If you wanted to build something or tie something that required the cord to hold a lot of weight, you’d be out of luck.
What is the most durable rope? Kevlar.
What is the strongest kind of rope? Manila is the strongest natural rope and nylon is the strongest synthetic rope.
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